A/N: With several other in–progress stories, I really shouldn't be posting this . . . but I couldn't resist.
Disclaimer: I don't own OUAT.
Summary: When the favor comes due, Emma gets more than she bargained for. And Mr. Gold won't take no for an answer.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening)
Emma sighed as she rifled through yet another stack of papers on the mountainous desk in her office. Case after case, file after file jumped out at her until the black lettering blurred together in dizzying patterns. In a pure fit of frustration, Emma slammed the pile back down on the desk, causing several others to rain down on the floor, littering the small space with crumpled pages. Pressing two fingers to the bridge of her nose, the Sheriff slumped back into a chair.
She didn't think she was doing all that bad for working straight through the day and well into the night. Accepting the badge had felt like a victory at first—she had shown Henry she could win by playing fair, hadn't she?—but Emma knew she couldn't go on like this forever, even if it meant she could see her son from time to time. The kid—her kid—was also the Mayor's kid. Not biologically, but Regina might as well have been. Because if she was being honest with herself, Emma had no idea how to be a mother, let alone be a role model for Henry. Hooking that badge to her belt rooted her to the town indefinitely. It meant Emma Swan had a reason to stay in Storybrooke, to protect her son in all the ways that mattered, try as the Mayor might to keep Henry away from her.
But she'd had help becoming Sheriff. And Emma didn't know when she would ever stop owing the local pawnbroker.
The shrill ring of the phone brought her back to reality, slicing right through her thoughts. She dodged the corner of the desk, hurrying to answer the call, wondering who would need her assistance so late in the evening.
"Sheriff Swan," she breathed into the receiver.
"Emma?" said a trembling voice on the other end.
It took only a second to recognize. Her brows furrowed, mouth pulling down at each corner. "Ruby?"
"Emma, please hurry," the girl whispered rapidly. "He has a gun!"
The Sheriff heard a click, and the line went dead.
Emma hopped in the car and floored her way to the diner, thankful for the ever present lack of traffic, one hand on the wheel, the other clutching her gun. The weight of it in her hand felt strange, and she realized with a jolt she might actually have to use the weapon for the first time, depending on what sort of situation she rushed in on. Who could Ruby have meant? Even though the clock tower told her it was well past midnight now, Emma hoped Henry was at home, fast asleep in bed, dreaming. And not at Granny's.
Emma slammed on the brakes and jumped from the squad car, leaving the door on the driver's side open, vehicle running. She trained her gun on the front door leading into the diner, praying she wouldn't have to shoot anyone, her heart pounding loud enough to block out all thought. The Sheriff slipped inside, a tiny tinkling of bells above her head announcing her arrival.
The place was eerily quiet.
She took note of the few people sitting at booths and tables—innocent residents of the town. They went through the motions of drinking, nibbling on bits of food, reading the most recent copy of the Daily Mirror, but did not dare to speak. Emma raised a finger to her lips, anyway, signaling for them to remain quiet.
Her eyes roved over the counter. And there, sitting on a stool, was the very man who had posted his own bail a mere twenty–four hours prior.
"More," he growled roughly, pointing to the empty glass on the counter. With shaking hands, Ruby stepped forward and filled the container nearly to the brim, amber–colored liquid splashing over the sides. She shrank back and away, slowly inching towards Emma, who soundlessly motioned for her not to move any further.
Emma's eyes locked onto the gun next to him, recognizing it from the time she'd surprised him at his house after it had been broken into. With the image of the man beating Moe French sharp in her mind, the Sheriff stepped forward, steadily keeping her own weapon pointed at the man dressed in a black suit, clicking off the safety.
"I never would've taken you for an angry drunk, Mr. Gold."
At that, he simply drained the glass, took up his cane in one hand, the gun in the other. "Now, now, Ms. Swan, your presence here is hardly necessary," Gold mumbled exasperatedly, lazily holding the gun sideways in his hand and waving it around carelessly as he spoke. "You do see no one has been harmed?" He gestured to the few civilians scared out of their wits behind him.
"Yet," Emma remarked, smoothing her face into an indifferent mask, determined to retain control. She held out an empty hand. "Give me the gun, Gold."
The man laughed darkly once, fire dancing in his chocolate eyes, which seemed to melt instantly. "No, I don't think so. Not just yet." His cane tapped rhythmically as he took a few confident steps toward her, the only sound to fill the silent void that had so uneasily settled over the diner. He stopped close enough for Emma to catch the overwhelming smell of alcohol on his breath, mixed with a wild musty scent she recognized, reminding her of the unpleasant odor of unwashed sheep—lanolin. With a loud click, Mr. Gold reminded her he was armed. "You see, Sheriff, I own this town. And, therefore, I own you."
A flicker of a shadow passed over his eyes, so fast Emma thought she might have imagined it. But no, he was smiling at her now, a couple of gold teeth sparkling brilliantly in the light, threat looming above her like a rain cloud, drenching Emma Swan with fearful anticipation. She wondered briefly if he had cracked and gone mad, finding it difficult to acknowledge a midlife crisis. It certainly would explain the large consumption of whiskey, though his speech and demeanor seemed unaffected by the substance, very much the same. So why the hostility? Why have her at gunpoint?
"True or not, this late night show can still earn you a one–way ticket back to that cell." She allowed herself a half–smile despite the fact that she knew he would likely bail himself out if it came back to the silver bracelets. Everyone in town knew he had the means to do so. But she was the Sheriff—the one who was bound to enforce the rules Regina made, the rules he would always bend. And occasionally break. "Wouldn't want that, now would we?"
Gold, the fight draining slowly out of him, lowered the weapon. He lifted his cane—at which point Emma tightened her stance—then let the end of it touch the floor with a soft, wooden tap, abruptly business–like. "Perhaps," he drawled, "we could strike a deal."
It took a great amount of self–restraint to remain where she was. Make a deal? At Granny's? While waving weapons around? It was neither the time nor the place. But, Emma reasoned, if it was the only way to keep people from getting hurt. . . . "What do you want?"
He leaned heavily on his cane for a moment, staring at her as if he could see right through her. Like he knew she was more than willing to play his little game if it meant saving innocent lives. "What I want is for you to escort me back to my residence. And there are a few matters which, I believe, we need to discuss."
Emma's jaw clenched almost subconsciously, the way it always did whenever words seemed to snake their way out of his mouth and coil themselves around her, squeezing the air from her lungs, hissing softly in both ears. They had travelled down this road once before, and the oncoming self–loathing was inevitable. Repressing a shudder, she asked, "In exchange for . . . ?"
"Oh, I don't know . . . " That smug little grin of his suddenly made an appearance. Gold shrugged. "I suppose I'll owe you a favor."
While the proposition meant absolutely nothing to her, and she knew he knew as much, she decided she would have to settle for the price, however strange it might seem. Besides, what more could he possibly offer? Emma had promised herself never to sink to his level again if she could avoid it, but she really wasn't in the position to negotiate at the moment, especially with the devil's scrutinizing glare fixed solely on her, awaiting an answer. The Sheriff held out her hand again. "Fine. Hand it over, and I'll take you home."
He placed the gun carefully in her hand with obvious content. He paused then—Emma supposed for dramatic effect—knuckles brushing against her palm to show who was really in control, who could easily take the weapon back and massacre the town if he felt the need. "Thank you, Ms. Swan."
Emma followed him towards the door, then stopped and turned back to say something to Ruby—and also to Granny, who must have emerged from the back—though she had no idea what she possibly could say. "Don't worry, I'll be back after he passes out"? "Don't worry, he'll pay for any damages"? "Don't worry, I've got everything under control"? Finally, she nodded awkwardly once in an assuring sort of way, and walked briskly out into the cold night.
He was waiting in the squad car on the passenger side, fiddling with the top of his cane, which, Emma noticed, was also inlaid with pure gold. She wondered fleetingly if he had purposefully changed his last name since moving to the town, or if that had always been his name, if he had always lived in Storybrooke. The pawnbroker rapped on the glass window, mumbling something about the fragile material.
She parked outside the large, empty house. As she climbed out of the vehicle, she witnessed Mr. Gold's futile attempts to join her. Emma circled around to help him from the squad car, grabbing one forearm, which she felt a great deal of heat radiating from, like an open fire. Once he had gained his footing, he pushed her away, hard, though she quickly grabbed his shoulders as he stumbled, even with the support of his cane. Only when she had fished the key out of his pocket and opened the front door did she realize he was trembling.
She set him down on the couch, knowing it would be impossible to lead him any further. Sweat had started to bead on his forehead, but he didn't seem to notice. He just stared up at her as he leaned back, his thin hair forming two perfect curtains on either side of his head, falling behind his ears. And, when he finally closed his eyes, Emma decided to leave. To hell with his deals. But as she turned to go, she hesitated, her gaze falling upon the cane.
His hand held fast to her wrist once she'd wrapped her fingers around the wooden object—an ironclad grip. "Stay," Gold said, voice laced with a dark undercurrent, one that sent an involuntary shiver up Emma's spine. "Please, Sheriff. Have a seat."
She knew she could refuse and walk right out the door. Forget the whole thing ever happened. But an overwhelming sense of curiosity kept her rooted to the spot, eyes locked with the man who had given her many things, while at the same time, had left her with virtually nothing at all. How could she trust him? How could she know he wouldn't take the little she had left?
But what could he really do now? With a bad leg and one too many shots of whiskey, Emma figured she could overpower him if he chose to put up a fight. And, to add to the bright side, she still had both guns.
For the first time since she'd come to Storybrooke, Emma had stumbled upon a win–win situation.
The Sheriff sighed and relaxed her tense muscles. "Just this once." She settled into a nearby chair, folding her arms. "And only because you won't remember any of this in the morning."
He laughed at that, really laughed. The sound was foreign to her ears. "Ah, dear Emma." Mr. Gold glanced at a grandfather clock in the corner of the room, then back at his guest. "Have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy our little chats?"
If it had been anyone else—anyone but Gold—she would have smiled. But every time she looked at him, all she could see was a sly grin, a flash of gold, and her own empty outstretched hands. Whatever he asked her to do to repay the debt, she knew she must comply. She'd only arrived a few months ago, and already she had made a deal with the devil. And there was no winning, no losing, no amending the agreement. Neither could gain full power over the other.
And so would they forever dance in circles, never getting straight to the point.
"What more can I offer you, Mr. Gold?" Emma asked, failing to keep her voice from shaking slightly with rage. Any politeness she had intended to convey had evaporated faster than smoke.
The pawnbroker made a fist and pretended to study the various golden bands on his right hand. "I have decided that I would like to make my request regarding your debt to me," Gold announced. He smiled knowingly as he watched her expression change, getting to his feet and hobbling over to a large cabinet. He grabbed the handles of each door, pulling them outwards, leaning on a small mahogany table for support. "I hope you were satisfied with your end of the bargain?"
Emma instantly opened her mouth to respond, but found a lump had formed in the back of her throat. Swallowing hard once, she tried again, saying as firmly as possible, "Yes. I am."
"Good." Mr. Gold retrieved what he had been searching for from the cabinet. Due to the dimness of the room, Emma couldn't quite make out the shape of the object. But the old man took his time as he limped over to her, and the Sheriff was convinced the delay was deliberate, though she could not have proven it. She could, however, detect the amusement in those dark, prying orbs of his. Like his eyes were smiling, too. Almost glowing. "Here we are," he said, producing the offering.
Emma glanced uncertainly from the wooden box to the pawnbroker, expecting some form of trickery, waiting for him to pull the rug out from under her—waiting for the punch line. When she saw his mouth had straightened into a thin, serious crease and that his jaw had clenched, Emma curled her fingers around the box and gently lowered it to her lap. Mr. Gold lingered for a moment as she studied the strange silver lock, then retreated back to the couch. He folded his hands carefully and sat forward, a silent observer, watching and waiting for her reaction.
She smoothed her hand over the top, ran a thumb over the serpent–shaped latch. "Is there a key?"
For a moment, Emma thought he would burst out laughing at her ridiculous question—wouldn't objects with locks normally have keys to open them?—but Gold remained deadly quiet for several moments, staring at the wooden case. "Yes," he finally replied, looking down at his clasped hands. "There is a key."
Emma took note of the sudden melancholy tone of his voice, words of meaningless comfort crossing her mind. But she bit her tongue, promised herself to be more patient, make her curiosity less apparent, face expressionless. And so the Sheriff did not speak.
Though she did not have to wait long.
"There shall come a day when you'll receive the key, Ms. Swan. I cannot give a specified time or manner in which it will present itself to you. However, once it arrives, you will open the case. You will take what's inside without question. You will immediately contact me."
Emma paused, absorbing the information, searching his face for any signs of deceit. She frowned when she found none, eyebrows stitching together. "And then?"
Mr. Gold sighed heavily, closed his eyes, and rested his head against the soft back of the sofa. "You will do precisely as I ask, Sheriff."
Emma found she did not care as she headed for the door, fingers itching to open the box.
For, just like rules, promises were meant to be broken.